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y = mx + b

For many students in high school, math is hard. I was at an education conference recently when I heard a presenter say that one thing a math teacher should do for struggling students is to simply acknowledge, “Hey, math is hard. It takes a lot of work,” rather than attempt to encourage by saying, “Look, it’s easy,” or “It’s not that hard.” Maybe this helps encourage struggling math students, maybe it doesn’t. 

My first year teaching in Circle was my first year as a generalist, i.e. a teacher of every subject under the sun. And one of those was math: eighth grade, pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, and algebra 2. All in the same day, every day. And though I’m pretty quick on the up-take, it was no small amount of homework for this English major every night in preparation for teaching those lessons the next day.

It was in that first year that I first had Jamiee in class. And she is by disposition, shall we say, not receptive to instruction, particularly in math where she struggles. And so math was the high point of both of our days. Particularly when I became confused on a complex problem. It wasn’t pretty.

As she has moved on from my class and further along in her educational career, she has continued to need tutoring and help with her homework from time to time. And between me and Stephanie, I’ve always been the logical choice. Even though I’m not a math guy, I’m getting pretty good at algebra. 

But really, when it comes down to it, she doesn’t want my help with math. Given her disposition and mine, doing math together does little more than bring back bad memories. Hard as I try, I’m too thorough. She wants to know how to do this particular problem; I want to explain everything a person would need to know to solve that kind of problem. She gets frustrated. I get frustrated. No learning is happening. Time to bring in Stephanie.

Stephanie works through the frustration in an almost bull headed way, but after a while, Jamiee warms up and continues to work. Stephanie struggles more with the math concepts, so as inefficient as this may be I end up showing Stephanie how to work the problems so that Stephanie can show Jamiee. We’d all rather be doing different things with our evenings, but this is what we do. And hey, math is hard. It takes a lot of work. Does saying that make it any easier? 

Posted on Sunday, November 22, 2009 at 10:35PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

Two variables, two constants, and one equation. It's unsolvable.
November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDad
You are a good man, Brian Rozell!
November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMom

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